Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Serenity Now

I've discovered...GARDENING!!

My husband and I bought our first house in June of 2012: a slightly dilapidated two storey house from the early 20th century with a jungle of a backyard.

What it lacks in modernity it makes up in personality.

Or at least that's what I tell myself.

I spent much of last summer just trying to tame the massive tangle of weeds that choked every inch of space. It was a long, grueling effort, but it was worth it - I started off this year with a relatively blank slate.

April was spent planning, sketching, researching and making list after list of possible plant combinations.

Once the weather changed in early May we hit up garden stores, spent several hundred dollars and came home with a carload of flowers, bushes and trees.

I have barely been back inside my house since.

I spend almost every free moment out in the garden, puttering around like a little old lady. I can easily while away an entire afternoon up to my elbows in dirt, digging up dandelions and I absolutely love it!

I have no idea what I'm doing, and will likely kill at least half of the plants I've just purchased, but I don't care. It's so utterly satisfying being outside and creating a beautiful, living piece of art in my own space.

To celebrate my new-found love of gardening, and because I was spending so much time outside I often forgot meals, I created this simple, filling smoothie.

I can throw it together in just a few minutes, and then drink it while meandering around the backyard.

It's bliss in a glass.

Serenity Now

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes one 10 ounce smoothie

3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (Almond Breeze)
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
1 frozen banana
1/4 cup rolled oats
2-3 purple kale leaves, torn
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. hemp seeds
1 tsp. vanilla


1. Blend, then stop and smell the flowers.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Guest Post: Dave's Chikout Pita & Ranch Sauce

Today's guest post comes courtesy of my favourite meat eater, my husband Dave. As I've mentioned before, Dave is teeter-tottering between being vegan and omnivore and he sometimes struggles to find vegan food that satisfies his cravings. He made this transitional meal several times and always raved about the results. The original version had cow's milk cheese and a bottled Ranch sauce, but with a switch to Daiya and a super easy home-made sauce, the whole thing became vegan and infinitely more delicious.

Here's his story:

When my wife, The Essential Vegan (it says that on our marriage license) first became vegan, I fully supported her…with my words. I had nothing against vegans, I found that their idea of food was just boring and bland. Their hearts were in the right place, but I felt that they were ignoring their taste buds, and were basically force-feeding themselves gruel while attempting to force a smile and say, without gagging, “this vegan dish is really tasty.”

Yes, I’m embellishing – but not by much. I had a recent experience that further supported my overly generalized bias. There was a vegan food truck where I live that my wife was ecstatic to go and try at a food truck festival, which was the ONLY vegan option. My wife bought a quinoa salad and coconut key lime pie. They looked good enough and the price suggested that these dishes were oozing with quality and flavour. They absolutely sucked. They sucked so bad it was literally upsetting. How many potential vegans have abandoned this lifestyle choice because they have had ultimately inferior food? That’s where I want to come in for other meat eaters, and introduce a vegan dish that taste like, dare I say, a ‘regular’ dish.

That was my primary plight for a good year before ‘mostly’ going vegan – it wasn’t so much the flavour that was lacking (spices can take care of anything), but the consistency and texture of the meat replacement was downright shameful. Companies are finally getting it right and realizing that all you have to do is trick the mind into thinking it feels like meat in your mouth, and BAM – you’re impregnated with veganism. What a strange comparison.

This is called the Chikout Pita. Why Chikout? Well, it's pretty simple, there's no chicken in here - as I've taken it out. See how clever that is?

'Chikout' Pita

Ingredients and how to make this delicious and easy (not to mention highly ‘influential’) meal:

-preheat toaster oven to 400 degrees
-cook 2-3 Gardein Chipotle Lime Chickenless Fingers for 24 minutes, flipping halfway through
-cook naan bread from from frozen for 5-7 minutes, and if your toaster oven has room you can cook the two at the same time to save energy
-place the chikout fingers on the naan bread and sprinkle with:
-1/3 cup Daiya grated soy cheese
-¼ Thai chili pepper, sliced or cut very thin and include the seeds
-¼ clove garlic, sliced or cut very thin
-put the naan bread all loaded up back in the oven and bake open-faced for 4 more minutes
-garnish with your favourite hot sauce and the ranch sauce (recipe included) as well as lettuce, peppers and whatever other veggies tickle your fancy
-fold/roll the naan up, eat and have your mind blown

Ranch Sauce
-combine the following in a blender until smooth (this will definitely take more than a minute):
          -1/2 cup raw cashews
          -2 tablespoons lemon juice
          -2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
          -1 and 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
          -1 tablespoon olive oil
          -1 tablespoon tahini paste
          -2 teaspoons chopped green onions (green parts)
          -1/4 teaspoon onion powder
          -1 teaspoon garlic powder
          -1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
          -1/2 teaspoon sea salt
          -1/8 teaspoon black pepper
          -2 teaspoon agave nectar
          -1/4 cup almond/soy milk

Ranch inspiration from Let Them Eat Vegan

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Jambalaya with Andouille Tempeh

It just wouldn't be right to start this post without paying homage to Newman and the Soup Nazi:


I'm continuing with my faux friends theme after a really successful (and faux!) eggless salad recipe for the Virtual Vegan Potluck. It was so fun to join in with 170 other vegan food bloggers and share lots of great food!

Today I'm taking on tempeh. I'll be honest - I haven't had much success with tempeh in the past. Tempeh has a much stronger taste than tofu, and the texture is nutty and crumbly. I've had it in a few great restaurant sandwiches, but I've found it difficult to create something at home that my favourite meat eater will actually enjoy.

I thought I'd try my hand combining tempeh with some New Orleans-style spices to create my own version of Andouille sausage. And what works wonderfully with vegan Andouille sausage? Jambalaya!

Jambalaya is one of the most quintessential foods from the southern United States. There are two basic types of jambalaya - Creole and Cajun. Creole jambalaya combines meat, peppers, onions, celery, tomatoes, seasonings, stock and rice, while Cajun jambalaya omits the tomatoes. Both methods use a simple, basic recipe of cheap (but good quality!) ingredients mixed with lots of flavourful spices.

This is food that sticks to your ribs and gives you a spicy slap in the face just for fun. The tempeh will blow your socks off if you try to eat it alone, but add it to the jambalaya and it all melds together in a beautiful synergy. I've always wanted to use that word.


Andouille Tempeh

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

Makes: 1 cup


1 250 gram block tempeh (Henry's Gourmet Tempeh)
1/2 cup low-salt vegetable stock
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tsp. safflower oil
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. bay leaf, crushed
1/4 tsp. sage
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. salt


1. Crumble tempeh into a large bowl and add garlic, liquid smoke and spices
2. Toss all ingredients together with your hands then refrigerate until ready to use
3. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat
4. Cook tempeh mixture for 5-7 minutes or until browned
5. Add vegetable stock and simmer for 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed


Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Serves 4


1 cup rice
1 cup water
2 cups low-salt vegetable stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup green pepper, thinly sliced
3/4 cup red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning*
1 tsp. safflower oil
1/4 tsp. salt

*DIY Cajun seasoning!*

2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. cayenne powder
1 1/4 tsp. oregano
1 1/4 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper


1. Heat oil in a large soup pot on medium heat
2. Add onion & cook for 4 minutes or until softened
3. Add garlic, bay leaf and spices and stir for another minute
4. Add water, stock and tomatoes, raise to a boil then reduce to low
5. Cover and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed
6. Fold in andouille tempeh just before serving

You will not walk away from the table feeling hungry. Giddy-up!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Virtual Vegan Potluck: Eggless Salad Sandwiches!

Welcome to The Essential Vegan and the third Virtual Vegan Potluck!

The Virtual Vegan Potluck is held twice a year - May and November - and this round brings together 170 fantastic vegan foodies from across the globe.

We all link our websites to allow readers easy access to a virtual encyclopedia's worth of recipes, cooking tips and personal experiences from the all around the vegan world.

Let's get started!

My contribution to this daisy chain of amazing vegan food is a spin on the classic egg salad sandwich.

Perfect for family picnics and lazy weekend days, my eggless salad is a cinch to put together. It has all the wonderfully creamy, eggy texture your heart desires thanks to extra-firm tofu and a zippy eggless mayo dressing.

Most vegan egg salad recipes use prepared vegan mayonnaise, but there's really no need because home-made is healthier and way more delicious. Plus it's ready in ten minutes. How much easier can it be?

I was never a mayo fan, but this stuff is addictive. I had to stop myself from eating it just to take a few pictures! This would be fantastic thinned out as a dip for veggies or as a sandwich spread.

One final word about the eggless mayo's oil content - four tablespoons of oil may seem like a lot, but it's necessary to achieve the creamy consistency of mayonnaise.

Safflower oil is one of the healthier oils available and gives your body a good dose of polyunsaturated fats. A little healthy fat is a good thing!

Eggless Mayo

Prep time: 10 minutes

Makes about 3/4 cup


1 cup extra-firm tofu, drained & pressed
1/4 cup cashews, finely ground
4 Tbsp. safflower oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt


1. Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender & pulse to combine
2. Add 2 Tablespoons of oil and blend, then repeat and blend until completely smooth
3. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use

Eggless Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes

Makes about 1 cup


1 cup tofu, drained & pressed
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. Eggless Mayo
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green onion, diced (light green parts)
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper


1. Whisk together Eggless Mayo, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, water, maple syrup and spices in a small bowl
2. Crumble tofu into a large bowl and mix in dressing, using a fork to break up tofu
3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve

Serve on some lovely nutty bread, stuffed into a pita, or as an appetizer on crackers.

So yummy!

Thanks for visiting The Essential Vegan!

Enjoy the rest of the Virtual Vegan Potluck, and I hope you'll check in with me again soon.

Go back to The Split Plate:

Go forward to The Joyful Pantry:

Thanks so much to An Unrefined Vegan, Vedged Out and Jason and the Veganauts for creating the Virtual Vegan Potluck and Vegan Bloggers Unite! for hosting!

Eggless Mayo inspired by 500 Vegan Recipes

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Shawarma Tofu & Sriracha Tahini Sauce

I've always been a big fan of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food.

Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan...that area of the world inspires foods with simple, fresh flavours and lots of great spice blends.

Before going vegan my husband and I ate at our local Mediterranean restaurant quite frequently. Since the change, though, I've found my food options a little disappointing. Ninety percent of the menu is heavy on meat and/or cheese, so my choices were lentil soup or falafel. Don't get me wrong - I love lentil soup and falafel, but after a few ho-hum visits I decided I could make some delicious alternatives at home.

I created this recipe as much for my husband as myself. Dave has been inching closer to veganism over the last few months, and I like encouraging him by experimenting with familiar (yet new!) tastes and textures in a non-threatening way. Sometimes wild and crazy vegan gourmet isn't what wins people over. Simple is good.

One of Dave's favourite Mediterranean dishes is chicken shawarma. I thought I'd try my hand at combining a bunch of yummy spices with crumbled extra-firm tofu, and it turned out pretty darn tasty.

A word about the moisture factor: tofu will never have the inherent "juicy-ness" of a slab 'o meat. Pressing the tofu removes all the excess moisture, which also tends to make it a little on the dry side.

To compensate for this, I kept the tofu crumbles larger (I'd make them even bigger next time!) and topped it with a Sriracha tahini sauce that pulls all the flavours together and adds a little creamy kick.

Shawarma Tofu

Prep time: 2 hours (tofu prep & marinade)
Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3-4


1 block tofu (Soyganic Extra Firm Tofu)*
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. safflower oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. allspice
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

*Pressed tofu:

1. Remove tofu from package and squeeze out excess water
2. Layer tofu and a tea towel on a plate with a heavy bowl to press for one hour


1. Cut tofu into ten slices lengthwise, then crumble into a medium sized bowl
2. Mix in oil, garlic, lemon juice and spices, stir to coat and refrigerate for one hour
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees; spread tofu on a baking tray with a silicone sheet
4. Bake for 20 minutes, stir and bake another 10 minutes

Sriracha Tahini Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes about 1/2 cup


1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Sriracha
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt


1. Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk to combine

Serve Shawarma Tofu stuffed into a pita or naan bread with your favourite greens and a healthy dose  of the Sriracha Tahini Sauce.

Welcome to Flavour Town.

Spice mix inspiration from The Shiksa.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Sir Mix-A-Lot

I'd like to start with a few words about the bean so many people love to hate - soy!

Tofu and soy products get a bad wrap. That's not to say it's completely undeserved, but some people avoid soy like the plague.

But soy is not the enemy! The blame lies with how big agricultural conglomerates like Monsanto (boo, hiss!) have genetically altered the soybean plant.

Soybeans have been a staple in Asian diets for literally thousands of years. Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures use a wide variety of soy products - miso, edamame, silken tofu, firm tofu, soy milk, tamari - on a daily basis. Soy is high in protein, calcium, vitamin C and potassium, and the sheer variety of products on the market means we can easily incorporate it into our diets.

Unfortunately, the soybean originally cultivated in Asia has been mutated and genetically modified into a biotech crop, one of the many Monsanto 'Roundup Ready' products designed to resist the company's own pesticides. The huge influx of genetically modified soy into the North American agricultural market is absolutely mind-blowing. In 1997, 8% of soy was genetically modified, but by 2010 it had jumped to 93%. Ninety-three percent!

Before I get off on too much of a tangent, I'd like to boil this down to my essential point. Soy is not the devil. Minimally processed soy products like edamame are very healthy and can be consumed with abandon. Tofu is more heavily processed, but limited amounts can still be included without cause for concern.

But! There are two crucial rules when purchasing and eating soy.

One - it must be organic


Two - it must be labelled as "Non-GMO"

If the package does not include the "Non-GMO" label, it's safe to assume it is GMO and should be avoided at all costs. Personally, I'm not willing to be Monsanto's science experiment, so my tofu absolutely must be non-GMO.

The Non-GMO Project has a fantastic website designed to help consumers find and purchase verified products - check it out here!

Okay, so back to the recipe. I know some people aren't super keen about green smoothies. I love them, but they're not for everyone.

If you're looking to significantly bump up the nutritional value of a fruit smoothie without spinach, kale or the like, silken tofu makes a great alternative. It's very similar to custard - it's light and creamy, and gives a bit of a Greek yogurt-esque tang to a smoothie.

Here's a super simple silken tofu smoothie (say that three times fast!) that'll start your day off with a bang - this baby's got back!

Sir Mix-A-Lot

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes one large smoothie (16 oz) or two small smoothies (8 oz)


1/2 cup silken tofu (Morinaga Silken Soft Tofu)
2/3 cup almond milk (or non-GMO soy milk)
1 frozen banana
2/3 cup frozen mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries & raspberries)
1 Tbsp. hemp seeds
1 tsp. maple syrup


1. You know the drill. Blend, sip and love.


Friday, 3 May 2013

The Faux Friends

Many vegans, especially those new to the meat-free world, can admit to the occasional desire for a meal with a little heft.

It's not that the abundance of vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in vegan diets is somehow insufficient. A well-planned vegan diet satisfies every single nutritional need without batting an eye, but sometimes vegans look for foods with a more substantial texture.

Let's call it a craving for meaty-ness, without the collateral damage.

It's here that the three Faux Friends enter the picture. Tofu, seitan and tempeh can provide some much-needed oomph to meals, and are especially useful when veganizing a traditionally meat-based dish. They add bulk, substance and texture to meals, and are often used to imitate meat products like chicken, beef or pork.

Some vegans shy away from consuming the Faux Friends on a regular basis because they all require some form of processing, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should be avoided.

Knowing how to make, use and consume the Faux Friends can open up a world of delicious meal possibilities.


Love it or hate it, we can't overlook tofu. It's cheap, plentiful and easily adaptable to a wide variety of recipes. The process for making commercially prepared tofu is similar to cheese. The soybeans are soaked, ground, boiled and strained to make soy milk. The milk is mixed with a coagulant (from salt, acid or enzymes) and curdled to create soy curds. The curds are then processed based on the desired consistency. Soft tofu is pressed directly into its plastic package, whereas firmer tofu requires pressing before distribution.

Format: large, white cakes
Consistency: soft to firm
Usage: smoothies & desserts (soft), stir frys, curries (firm & extra-firm)
Taste: neutral


Until recently tempeh was a relatively obscure product outside of vegetarian restaurants and some ethnic cuisines, particularly Indonesian, but it's now becoming easier to find. Partially cooked soybeans are mixed with vinegar and active bacterial cultures, then spread thin and left to ferment for 24-36 hours in a warm space. Since the soybeans are left whole, tempeh contains more protein, vitamins and fiber than tofu.

Format: small, rectangular cakes
Consistency: firm
Usage: stir frys, soups, sandwiches & curries
Taste: nutty, earthy & chewy


Seitan is also a relatively new product in Western markets, but it's been used in Asian cultures for centuries. Seitan is made using vital wheat gluten; washing wheat flour separates the wheat gluten from the starch. The process of separating vital wheat gluten from wheat flour used to be arduous and time consuming, but it's now possible to buy vital wheat gluten in bulk stores and Asian markets.

Format: flour
Consistency: firm
Usage: soups, stews, kebabs, salads & stir frys
Taste: dense, meaty & chewy

Coming up galore!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Cinco de Mayo Bean Soup

I thought I'd round out my bean recipes with a Mexican bean soup; something perfect for an easy dinner this Cinco de Mayo.

The Cinco de Mayo Bean Soup is very similar to a chili, particularly my "This Is Vegan?!" Chili, but I find chili gets a bit heavy once the weather begins to warm. This recipe is a great summer soup; it's not too heavy but has a spicy kick and lots of beans and vegetables.

The basis for most Mexican bean soups is red kidney beans and turtle beans, plus tomatoes, onion, garlic, stock and a hot pepper. Beyond that there's lots of room for flexibility. Feel free to add or omit any of the vegetables I've listed below; they all add colour, texture and substance to the soup, but are by no means requirements.

Mexican food is fantastic for its versatility and focus on simple, fresh flavours. Delicioso!

Cinco de Mayo Bean Soup

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 4-5


1 tsp. safflower oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup frozen corn
1 avocado, peeled & diced
1 Thai chili pepper*
2 cups cooked red kidney beans
1 cup cooked turtle beans
2 cups low salt vegetable stock
2 cups water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1-2 Tbsp. lime juice
2-3 Tbsp. cilantro, roughly chopped

*I prefer Thai chili peppers, but feel free to use a jalapeno for a more authentic Mexican soup*


1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot on medium high
2. Cook onions for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally
3. Add garlic and hot pepper and stir for one minute, then add spices and stir
4. Add tomatoes, corn, beans, water and stock and bring soup to a boil
5. Lower to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes
6. Add green and red peppers and lime juice, stir and simmer for 5 minutes*
7. Remove from heat, let sit for a few minutes then serve sprinkled with cilantro

*I like my peppers cooked but crunchy; continue cooking a few extra minutes for softer peppers*